Trade Unions (labor unions; German: Gewerkschaften): Predecessors were journeymen's associations and brotherhoods such as were first documented in the 15th century. After an uprising of shoemakers' journeymen in 1722 all brotherhoods and journeymen's associations were disbanded, and unions of craftsmen's journeymen were made subject to punishment by the Penal Code of 1803. Nevertheless, some sickness and burial funds were founded in the Vormaerz, the period preceding the March Revolution of 1848. The Fundamental Laws of 1867 and the Coalition Act of 1870 enabled workingmen to form associations and press for better working conditions by strikes. Accordingly, workers' associations were founded in the years that followed. By 1873 there were 150 associations with approximately 52,000 members on the territory of present-day Austria, with 70 % of membership in Vienna. At that time, there were already links with the Workers' Movement; at the meeting at Hainfeld in 1888/89 a recommendation was passed to found crafts associations ("Fachvereine").
In 1892, 194 crafts associations, including 69 in Vienna, formed the "Provisional Commission of Austrian Trade Unions" ("Provisorische Kommission der Gewerkschaften Oesterreichs"), which held its first union rally in 1893. In 1897 a Czech Commission separated from it. By 1909, the Czech commission had grown to 40,000 members united in autonomous associations, as against a total membership of 415,000 in the Austrian groups. Christian journeymen's associations were formed from approximately 1890 onwards and established a central commission in 1906. German-Nationalist associations, which were formed after 1900, held a congress in 1906. The individual crafts and trades were organised in varying degrees, with printers, lithographers and construction workers in the lead.
After 1900 the unions organised major strikes calling for shorter working hours and increasingly succeeded in concluding collective agreements (at that time without a legal basis), but their influence on economic policy remained insignificant. Their activities were impeded by the state of emergency during the First World War (War Service Act).
After 1918 the groups that were members of the Union Commission joined the Social Democrats as freie Gewerkschaften and successfully worked to improve social policies (F. Hanusch, F. Domes); they cooperated with the chambers of labour founded in 1920, established apprentices' sections, and had grown to 1,079,777 members by the end of 1921. By 1932, however, their number had declined to 520,000. From 1928 onwards the Commission called itself Federation of Free Trade Unions (Bund freier Gewerkschaften). On account of its links with the Social Democrats it was dissolved in February 1934. Membership in the Christian Trade Unions, which were supported by the government of the day, rose from 65,000 in 1920 to 130,000 in 1932. In 1928 an independent union was formed ( Labour Unions, "Yellow" ). The German Nationalist Unions had about 50,000 members in 1931. In March 1934 the "Federation of Trade Unions of Austrian Blue and White Collar Workers" ("Gewerkschafts-Bund der oesterreichischen Arbeiter und Angestellten") was founded as a public-law institution. It did not include civil servants and agricultural and forestry workers and was endowed with the assets of the free Trade Unions; although it was given a voice in labour exchange operations, it enjoyed only limited autonomy (Membership at the end of 1936: 368,000; 1937: 400,000).
The Federation was dissolved in 1938 and workers became members of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labour Front, DAF), an organisation uniting employers and employees. On April 15, 1945 the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions was founded in Vienna.
Literature#F. Klenner, Geschichte der oesterreichischen Gewerkschaften, 3 vols., 1951-1979; idem, 100 Jahre oesterreichische Gewerkschaften, 1981.